Our natural environment depends on strong laws, properly enforced. When the UK leaves the EU we also leave all of the governance mechanisms that have enforced our environmental laws during our time in the EU, leaving our natural environment vulnerable to exploitation. This is why we, and our partners, are so concerned about this ‘governance gap’ and how our governments intend to fill it.

Gannet by Danny Green (rspb-images.com)

It’s now been almost a month since Defra launched their proposals for a new watchdog to enforce environmental laws in England. As some of you may recall, we were far from impressed with their ‘green poodle’, and have been pushing the Westminster Government ever since to strengthen their ambition and give us the ‘world-leading environmental watchdog’ we were promised back in January.

The ongoing saga of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, as it continues to heave its way through the Houses of Parliament, provided an excellent opportunity. In the House of Lords a few weeks ago, Peers voted for a new amendment (below ‘after Clause 3’) to the Bill which amounted to a rejection of the government’s weak proposals for the watchdog. This widely predicted defeat was embarrassing for the government, but gave hope to those, like us, fighting for strong environmental protection after Brexit.

This week it will be the turn of MPs to air their views on the plans. Tomorrow the EU (Withdrawal) Bill returns to the House of Commons for two more days of debate. This gives MPs an opportunity to debate and vote on a range of amendments in response to changes made to the Bill in the House of Lords. One amendment (number 31 on the fifth page), from a group of Conservative backbenchers but with the support of Government, is down to replace the amendment won in the Lords.

Whilst this amendment is weaker than won by Peers, it would still reflect a significant step forward from the government proposals outlined in the consultation.

These changes to strengthen environmental protection, through the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, have come about predominantly through pressure exerted on Parliament by the RSPB and our partners. Our fight will not finish there however…

Despite being a step forward, the amendment has major weaknesses:

  • The proposed duty for the application of environmental principles is very weak.
  • The fact that the watchdog can only scrutinise central government and not public bodies (which would be a disaster in cases like Walshaw Moor, where it should be Natural England being held to account for their licensing function).
  • It fails to require consultation, including with governments in Scotland, Wales and with civil servants in Northern Ireland (in the absence of a government), which is essential if we are to ensure a level playing field for nature across the four countries of the UK.

Together with our partners – including through the Greener UK coalition – we will keep fighting. We will not rest until we have binding commitments at least as strong (and ideally stronger) as the mechanisms we would lose on leaving the EU. After the events of this week, the next stop will be back in the House of Lords as the EU (Withdrawal) Bill ‘ping-pongs’ back to be debated by Peers once more.

To succeed, we need voices like yours to join with us and call for a better deal for nature after Brexit - one that drives the recovery of nature and shows the rest of the world what our islands are capable of. In the next few weeks we will be calling on our supporters to add their voice to ours in response to Defra’s consultation – please watch this space, or sign up here to find out how you can get involved. 

  • I very much share the RSPBs deep concerns over this governments, quite frankly pathetic response to replacing EU environmental and wildlife protection law with the equivalent Uk law. I am afraid to say that I have always thought that one of this governments hidden agendas for leaving the EU was and is to substantially weaken the regulations for protecting nature. I am afraid my fears are becoming well founded.. This Government has so many hidden vested interests such as big business, ownership of grouse moors and high intensity farming that substantially weaken environmental and wildlife protection regulations will suit many  of their members very well.

    Great stuff from the RSPB for great perseverance on this subject.Keep going for all you are worth one never knows how or when the political scene might change for the better.